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Cannabis move “too little, too late” advocate says

Medicinal cannabis advocate says families need support now, not in 2017.

Cheri O'Connell, with her daughter Tara, says the government's move to legalise certain forms of medicinal cannabis has come too late, and won't make much difference. A STATE government decision to establish a government-run medicinal cannabis industry does not go far enough to supporting the families of people with severe epilepsy, one of the state’s leading advocates says. Mia Mia mother Cheri O’Connell, who has used cannabis-based products to help her children with epilepsy, has heavily criticised the plan as “too little, too late”. With the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report released on Tuesday, she plans to launch a class action in the International Court of Justice against the state and federal governments over their historic handling of cannabis law. Up to 150 families, mostly in Victoria, have expressed interest in the action. The Victorian government promised to enact recommendations from the VLRC report. These include establishing growing operations in the same way as the recently established poppy industry, while product manufacturers would need to be licensed by the Health Department. Products to be manufactured include a range of non-smokable products, including oils and sprays. The industry could be up and running by 2017. Ms O’Connell attended a VLRC session in regional Victoria, and said despite a relatively positive feeling in the room, the final recommendations were disappointing. “By 2017, how many more kids will have died without access to the products they need? Certainly mine would have if we hadn’t have gone off on our own,” she said. “It’s ready to go now, there are those who could have it up and going in three to six months. Why wait for a government grow? “They’re arguing over a very benign product that guys have worked hard for six and seven years to perfect already, that meet all international standards and have multi-million dollar investors ready to start.” In the 42 recommendations, specialist medical practitioners would determine which patients can access the treatment, with pharmacies to dispense the products The products would be used as part of a treatment plan, to be overseen by a GP. Those with pain associated with multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS, as well as severe seizures from epilepsy and chronic pain will be eligible. Eligible children will be the first to have access to the products. Clinical trials will start next year. Ms O’Connell’s advocacy led her to be appointed the president of the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party Victoria. She said the government had moved too slowly, and believed products with far higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the principal psychoactive part of cannabis – were already available in Victoria. “What we’re using has less THC than what’s available – hemp seed oil is available, it’s not meant to be consumed, but how can they know that for sure,” she said. The family had found a product that meant their children did not get high from their treatment. The VLRC held a number of sessions across Victoria speaking to families and individuals in need of medicinal cannabis to address a range of health concerns. Premier Daniel Andrews said it was “landmark reform” for Australia and would help end the suffering for children with epilepsy. “I’ve seen first-hand how medicinal cannabis can change people’s lives. This landmark reform means Victorian families will no longer have to decide between breaking the law and watching their child suffer,” he said. But Ms O’Connell said it was only a “band-aid fix”. “In the end, we want to help more than just epileptic kids. There are thousands of people across Victoria who need access to products, many of which aren’t going to be included in the government grow,” she said.

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